Day 115: Heat and Fire

We’re in the middle of a heat wave up here in Northern California. There’s never a weather report for being on a random mountain at 6,500′ — but our iPhones have been reporting expected highs of 102°, 104°, and similar temperatures for nearby towns. Those are usually several thousand feet lower and hence hotter, but we’re still getting highs in the upper 80s and lower 90s. And it feels so, so much hotter than the desert ever did, because it’s humid, too. Right now, I’m writing this from a tent where it’s 71° and 94% humidity. Try sleeping in that sometime…let alone hiking in it.

Just like yesterday, wildfires define the landscape here. Unlike yesterday, though, we actually saw one today: we came over the top of a ridge and there was a plume of smoke, coming from the next hillside over. It was a tiny fire — maybe half a dozen trees at most — and we never saw any actual flames, but, still, it was both scary and kind of cool to actually see one. (The fire was also far enough away, and not in the direction we were headed, that we didn’t have to actually worry about it, either.)

We got to watch a helicopter head back and forth to the fire from over a ridge, likely dropping fire-retardant chemicals around it (we assume, because it wasn’t dropping water) for a while. A couple of hours later, we got to watch as another helicopter approached, this one with a giant bucket dangling a couple of hundred feet below it; it picked up water from a lake we’d passed, flew to the fire, and dumped the water on it. We were both pretty jealous that it didn’t happen when we were actually at the lake, as we thought that would’ve been a pretty cool thing to see, but it was still pretty fun from our perspective.

(Having said all that: I recognize that wildfires aren’t “fun” in the least to either the people or animals threatened by them, or the folks who have to put them out. One of our fellow hikers on the trail out here is a retired Cal Fire firefighter and instructor from the academy, and I have enormous respect for all of those people — they put themselves into harm’s way, far from cities or civilization, over and over again, for the rest of us. So here’s a huge shout out to all the people flying those helicopters, humping hoses up mountains through dense terrain, and all the other enormous, brave effort that goes into fighting these wildfires.)

Midway through our afternoon today, we started descending, and descending in a serious way. We’re approaching Seiad Valley, the final town we’ll stop at in California (Oregon awaits!!), and it’s something like five thousand feet lower than the mountains we’ve been hiking on. This makes the hike into it all downhill, as you’d expect, although the hike out will be a completely brutal uphill — as bad as Belden. We’re working hard to make sure we get to split the climb out in two, part in the evening of one day and the rest in the morning of the next, just to make it easier. But, before we have to do that, we’re looking forward to a resupply — and, likely, a cheeseburger — in Seiad!

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